When the next two rounds of the Heineken Cup are played in December, the Scarlets will have home and away meetings with Leinster, the holders. Little wonder the Welsh side's captain Mark Jones kept the lid on the hwyl, despite a notable win on the ground on one of England's standard-bearing sides. "We're miles off being the finished article but we're taking the right steps," said Jones, the flying wing who enjoyed one of his most influential afternoons in a career marred by injury.
Autumn's season of mists and mellow fruitfulness has been significantly bounteous for Scarlets, with wins in both their Heineken pool matches; for Irish, buoyed by an opening victory in Leinster, the fog descended when they were clinging to a 25-24 lead a couple of minutes from the end. Peter Richards chased back to his 22 to cover a chip by Scarlets' Daniel Evans and picked the ball up in front of his fly-half Ryan Lamb. The referee signalled that Lamb had knocked on, which was debatable, but Richards was offside, either way. The resulting penalty was a cinch for Stephen Jones, who finished with 17 points.
"It's still all on in this pool," said Toby Booth, the London Irish head coach. "I'm sure Brive will be a tough challenge for us and Scarlets will be tough for Leinster." Booth's Scarlets counterpart, Nigel Davies, has a fondness for management jargon and he described "a structure" and said "the players are growing in that framework". Put it any way you like: the locks Lou Reed and Dominic Day showed up well opposite the formidable Bob Casey and Nick Kennedy, while in the backs Evans and Jonathan Davies constantly took the game to their opponents.
Davies the coach recommended Wales continue to consider 20-year-old full-back Evans for next month's internationals (the first choice, Lee Byrne, is injured). The same may apply to Deacon Manu, Scarlets' New Zealander tight-head prop who is available to Wales after qualifying on residency and whose solid scrummaging helped the former Wallaby David Lyons to have an eye-catching match at No 8. "The scrummaging was first-class and we got close to parity in the line-out," said Lyons. "For two young blokes [Reed and Day] basically in their second year of professional rugby to perform like that against one of the best line-outs in Europe says a lot for them. This is by far the biggest [Scarlets] result I've been involved with."
Irish were able to field their England squad scrum-half Paul Hodgson even though he was due a rest under the elite player agreement. Booth revealed that the England manager, Martin Johnson, had requested three weeks ago that the three elite scrum-halves would play through the four rest weekends. Only Hodgson was able to do so – Danny Care of Harlequins has been nursing a wrist injury, while Leicester's Harry Ellis missed his side's Heineken games with a knee problem – but this exciting match of five tries tended to swirl around him and Lamb.
It appeared Irish had saved themselves after being on the back foot for most of the second half when Sailosi Tagicakibau picked off Mark Jones' pass to sprint home from 80 metres. But Declan Danaher, who had scored the first of two quality tries to each side in the first half, was forced off in the 73rd minute and Irish's depleted pack were unable to keep Scarlets at bay. "The young players came of age," said Nigel Davies. "We have to move forward in the knowledge that we have a strong heritage we have to uphold, but we have to do it our way. I know the heartache of Europe and we have to be very mindful that it will be a step back if we don't take advantage of this. There's a heck of a long way to go."
London Irish: Tries Danaher, Seveali'i, Tagicakibau; Conversions Lamb 2; Penalty Lamb; Drop goal Lamb. Scarlets: Tries Evans, M Jones; Conversion S Jones; Penalties S Jones 5.
London Irish: P Hewat; T Homer, E Seveali'i (P Richards, 58), S Mapusua, S Tagicakibau; R Lamb, P Hodgson; D Murphy, D Paice (D Coetzee, 53), F Rautenbach (P Ion, 53), N Kennedy, B Casey (capt; A Perry, 58), D Danaher, G Stowers, C Hala'ufia.
Scarlets: D Evans; L Williams, S Lamont, J Davies (R Higgitt, 58), M Jones (capt); S Jones, M Roberts; I Thomas, M Rees (K Owens, 60), D Manu, L Reed (V Cooper, 60), D Day, S Easterby (R Pugh, 60), D Jones, D Lyons.
Referee: P Fitzgibbon (Ireland).Reuse content